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Literature / Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

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Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a 1972 children's book written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz.

Alexander is having a terrible day. It starts when he wakes up with gum in his hair, and it just gets worse. The whole day, nothing seems to go right for Alexander.

The book has been adapted into an animated television special in 1990, two live-action short films, and an Adaptation Expansion live-action film.


This book provides examples of:

  • Affection-Hating Kid: Alexander hates the kissing on TV.
  • Agony of the Feet: At one point, an elevator door closes on Alexander's foot.
  • Big Brother Bully: Alexander's older brothers, Anthony and Nick. Anthony trips Alexander up, while Nick calls him a crybaby.
  • Bittersweet Ending. Alexander's day never gets any better, and he has to accept that moving to Australia won't solve his problems, since bad days happen even there... but at least at the end, the day is over. The Animated Adaptation adds a slight ray of hope at the last moment, as Alexander finally finds his missing yoyo, and as his mother gives him a warm goodnight kiss despite having been scolding him all day.
  • Butt-Monkey: Things go wrong for Alexander all day.
  • Calling Your Nausea: While he never throws up, Alexander at one point claims he'll be carsick if he doesn't have a window seat.
  • Downer Beginning: Downplayed. It starts with Alexander realising today will be a bad day, but only because of gum in his hair.
  • Eye Scream: Alexander gets soap in his eyes in the bath.
  • Flowery Insults: When Paul says that Alexander is only his third-best friend, Alexander replies, "I hope you sit on a tack! I hope the next time you get a double-decker strawberry ice cream cone, the ice cream part falls off the cone part and lands in Australia!".
  • Kids Hate Vegetables: Alexander, a young boy, hates lima beans.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Alexander has the "worst day of his life", though most of what happens are petty things like getting gum in his hair, not getting a window seat in the car, and not finding a prize in his cereal box. He gets so frustrated that he wants to run away to Australia, but his mom tells him that everyone has bad days, even in Australia. In short; Everyone has bad days, just deal with it.
  • Never My Fault: A lot of Alexander's mishaps are his own doing, if not through his actions then through his own poor attitude:
    • Downplayed for the first mishap; the gum in his hair. He fell asleep with gum in his mouth, though falling asleep is partly involuntary.
    • During math class (or "counting time"), he deliberately leaves out sixteen, thinking it's unnecessary, but blames Mrs. Dickens the teacher.
    • Played with when Alexander's mother scolds him. It is his fault for punching Nick (albeit it wasn't unprovoked), but she also scolds him for being muddy, which wasn't his fault.
    • He admits that he wasn't being careful with his elbow around his father's books and that he called Australia on the desk phone despite being told not to touch it, but doesn't think he should be held accountable.
  • No Full Name Given: Alexander, Anthony, and Nick's last name is unrevealed, as is Paul's, while Mrs. Demson, Dr. Fields, and Mrs. Dickens's first names are unrevealed.
  • Odd Name Out: The three brothers are named Alexander, Anthony... and Nick.
  • Pet the Dog: In the Animated Adaptation, Anthony and Nick share a moment of brotherly appreciation with Alexander and try to comfort him when he’s stuck with plain white sneakers.
  • Running Gag: Alexander wants to move to Australia, believing he won't have a bad day there.
  • Slice of Life: The whole book is just a day in the life of an average kid, full of average childhood mishaps.
  • Slipping into Stink: Invoked when Anthony deliberately makes Alexander fall into mud.
  • Sweet Tooth: Alexander insults Paul by hoping he drops his ice cream, and is jealous of his friends when their mothers all pack dessert but his doesn't.
  • Title Drop: Several times throughout the book, Alexander says that he is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.